Secretive US court to relocate in symbolic move
March 3, 2009 1 Comment
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In 1978, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, US legislators attempted to curtail the government’s spying powers by instituting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The court is supposed to handle requests by US counterintelligence agencies for surveillance of suspects operating inside the US. In reality, however, the court, which operates in total secrecy, has effectively become a rubber-stamp for the government, rarely turning down a request for a surveillance warrant. It usually rejects less than 1% of all requests each year; in 2007, the court denied only three of the 2,370 applications submitted to it by government agencies wishing to conduct surveillance operations. Even in rare instances when FISC does reject a warrant or two, another body, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISCR) re-examines the rejected cases and usually ends up granting them to the counterintelligence agencies that have requested them. Now, however, the secretive court has reportedly decided to take a symbolic step toward self-determination, by moving its headquarters from the US Department of Justice building to a newly built wing of Washington DC’s federal courthouse. According to former FISC Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who in 2005 spearheaded the impending move, one of the main reasons for the court’s relocation is to dispel widespread “skepticism about the court’s independence”. “I have struggled with the perception for years that we did whatever the government wanted and were rubber stamps. That was not and is not true, and this is a symbolic move that will help counter that”, said Lamberth. He said the relocation would be completed sometime in March, but refused to share further details. Other FISC or Justice Department officials also declined to comment on the move, citing “security reasons”.